A Tour of the Elgin Marbles
Feb 172020
The theorists of art suffer from the mistaken but widespread idea that the imagination takes place in the mind, mainly of homo sapiens. Most visual artists will recognise that their imagination is greatly enabled by playing with the materials of their art in the real world. This aid is particularly obvious in the three-dimensional art of carving. The popular image of the carver, prompted by art history, is of an individual who is capable of imagining the finished figure in the block and then removing the unwanted stone. I used to shared that view.
•  Now I start my carving from an amorphous piece of alabaster, selected because it’s volumes appeal to me. Initially I have no idea what I will make from it. I start by clarifying the movement in the stone that attracted me; I also clarify the volumes, cutting away jagged pieces that can never be useful. By the end of the first hour of work, turning the peace over, regarding it from every point of view I usually have some idea of what it could become. Some of those ideas are rejected because they have no appeal.
•  From an overview of my works it is fairly obvious that the female figure attracts me so in the majority of cases I  block out a figure that could change sex or position because I sketch it with the maximum gesture the stone will allow. This is my preferred strategy; if I am constricted by a specific commission (a rare occurence) I would start by playing with wax or clay. In either case the very slow process of freeing the figure from the matrix of stone inevitably presents me with a sequence of slow moving, vague figures which allow the imagination many possible directions and outcomes.
•  The subject matter of my carvings is more varied than that of my works in clay because of this constant feeding-in of new possibilities. Their comparative permanence is also helpful. These varying possibilities must exist in clay but are quickly submerged by the conscious will of the artist driving towards a fixed aim; in carving they may persist for weeks.
• The poet, for eons regarded as the one true artist, plays with words – abstractions. But for the visual artists, including actors, dancers, architects, engineers and painters, their imagination is hugely aided by acting out – making real movement in the real world.
•  Because memory is the basis of the way we interpret the world about us it is not possible to quantify how much of imagination is purely mental. My point is that the visual critics generally discount the input of reality, believing that the imagined is somehow superior. Rembrandt scholars may feel they are doing him a favour by denying the existance of the groups of models that posed for him. But in fact the scholars are doing him and any artists who might choose to follow his example, a huge disservice. They are putting Rembrandt’s putative achievements far beyond human capacity.
•  Anyone who believes computers will never equal human imagination should think again. A machine that can put an individual name to 500 million faces even when seen from varying view points, will very quickly outstrip the human imagination. It just needs to understand the function of imagination. Far from being a rare human attribute; imagination is an essential part of the animal survival mechanism –  that lion ate my brother, therefore this lion may eat me.

• RE-IMAGING THE IMAGINATION

The theorists of art suffer from the mistaken but widespread idea that the imagination takes place in the mind, mainly of homo sapiens. Most visual artists will recognise that their imagination is greatly enabled by playing with the materials of their art in the real world. This aid is particularly obvious in the three-dimensional art of carving. The popular image of the carver, prompted by art history, is of an individual who is capable of imagining the finished figure in the block and then removing the unwanted stone. I used to shared that view.

•  Now I start my carving from an amorphous piece of alabaster, selected because it’s volumes appeal to me. Initially I have no idea what I will make from it. I start by clarifying the movement in the stone that attracted me; I also clarify the volumes, cutting away jagged pieces that can never be useful. By the end of the first hour of work, turning the peace over, regarding it from every point of view I usually have some idea of what it could become. Some of those ideas are rejected because they have no appeal.

•  From an overview of my works it is fairly obvious that the female figure attracts me so in the majority of cases I  block out a figure that could change sex or position because I sketch it with the maximum gesture the stone will allow. This is my preferred strategy; if I am constricted by a specific commission (a rare occurence) I would start by playing with wax or clay. In either case the very slow process of freeing the figure from the matrix of stone inevitably presents me with a sequence of slow moving, vague figures which allow the imagination many possible directions and outcomes.

•  The subject matter of my carvings is more varied than that of my works in clay because of this constant feeding-in of new possibilities. Their comparative permanence is also helpful. These varying possibilities must exist in clay but are quickly submerged by the conscious will of the artist driving towards a fixed aim; in carving they may persist for weeks.

• The poet, for eons regarded as the one true artist, plays with words – abstractions. But for the visual artists, including actors, dancers, architects, engineers and painters, their imagination is hugely aided by acting out – making real movement in the real world.

•  Because memory is the basis of the way we interpret the world about us it is not possible to quantify how much of imagination is purely mental. My point is that the visual critics generally discount the input of reality, believing that the imagined is somehow superior. Rembrandt scholars may feel they are doing him a favour by denying the existance of the groups of models that posed for him. But in fact the scholars are doing him and any artists who might choose to follow his example, a huge disservice. They are putting Rembrandt’s putative achievements far beyond human capacity.

•  Anyone who believes computers will never equal human imagination should think again. A machine that can put an individual name to 500 million faces even when seen from varying view points, will very quickly outstrip the human imagination. It just needs to understand the function of imagination. Far from being a rare human attribute; imagination is an essential part of the animal survival mechanism –  that lion ate my brother, therefore this lion may eat me.

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